Monday, 22 December 2008

Shopping Hoi An

I started writing this as an e-mail to my parents, who are shortly popping across to Vietnam for Christmas. I don't profess to be an expert in anything Vietnamese, but I have twice experienced the delights of Hoi An, and have every intention of returning sometime in the not too distant future, so thought it would be nice to share some tips. Hopefully they will help my parents, your fine self, and my future self :)

Step 1: Plan of attack

Even if you're going to be staying there for more than a week, don't wait until you're there to decide what you want. With over 200 tailors and a myriad of brightly coloured shoe shops lining every street, to say the options are overwhelming is an understatement.

Yes most shops have catalogues that you can sit there and sort through, but do you really want to waste time doing that? And are you going to make the best decisions when being egged on by understandably eager shop assistants who will sometimes agree to anything to make a sale.

Instead, do your research. Browse the internet and save images of things you want. Take with you any existing clothes you have that you want to duplicate, or take pictures of you wearing them. Think about fabrics, colours, lining, pockets, every little detail before you get there. Channel your inner Project Runway. Arrive with a plan, all these pictures on a USB stick, and a big fat empty suitcase.

Step 2: On arrival

Whether you're going to dive in quickly and start your shopping immediately, or whether you can ease yourself into it at a more relaxed pace depends on how long you have there. The less time, the quicker your immersion has to be.

Either way, for things that you are 100% sure that you want, that you've thought about what fabric and trimmings you need and you don't want to compromise on quality, why muck around? For me that means going straight to Yaly Couture.

Yes they charge significantly more than any other tailor in Hoi An, but to me they are worth every penny. They are meticulous, professional and friendly. Their staff are lovely and attentive, patient and willing to help. They know about fabrics, and can give great advice about what will and won't work, without blindly agreeing with everything you say. They speak great English, minimising the chances of misunderstandings. They will happily prepare 1 garment for you, or 50. Same same. They don't negotiate on price, but after a while in SE Asia that can be a welcome change.

Summary of step 1: go to Yaly and sort out all the essentials on your list.

Step 2: Breathe

Sit down and enjoy the food and beverages at one of Hoi An's many lovely eateries. Bia Hoi + white rose = match made in heaven.

Do this as many times per day as you need shopping breaks (minimum 3 and that's an order).

Summary of step 2: eat and drink beer.

Step 3: More shopping

So you've got your basics underway. Now its time to wander around all the tailors in town and see what takes your fancy. Don't be pressured into buying the first time you see a cool and original design; chances are the shop around the corner will have something same same but slightly different.

Work out what you like first and then commit. Ask around for ballpark prices in similar styles before committing to any particular shop. The more you buy in one place, the more you can barter.

Be wary of how much time you have and make sure shops can commit to a deadline earlier than what you actually have. You don't want to waste your last night or miss your flight because you're chasing up an order that will "be delivered in 5 minutes". Don't pay anything more than a deposit until you get the item, and demand a refund on items that are either not what you ordered or are not going to be ready on time. Be firm.

Summary of step 3: look around for inspiration.

Step 4: And now for something completely different...

More shopping! This time, how about some shoes?

Again its really helpful if you've thought about this before leaving home. Do you need brown boots, purple flats and red heels? Or black boots, red flats and yellow heels? What height should the heels be? Should the toes be pointy or round? What decorative features do you want - bows, buckles, peeptoe?

Have some idea, but don't be afraid to be seduced by the colourful items and fancy styles on display. Again, taking images or existing copies of shoes you want duplicated is immensely helpful.

One warning though, while the variety and endless possibilities of shoes is intoxicating, beware of quality. Flats are your safest bet, but even then the type of soles will vary widely between cobblers. One set of heels I bought had fallen off by the time I even made it back home to Australia.

Again: bargain and be wary of deadlines. Be kind but firm if and when things start going pear-shaped.

Summary of step 4: shoes!

Step 5: Dress-up time

By the time day 2 rolls around you probably have a full day of appointments set up with various tailors around town. This is where the fun really begins.

You get to witness the creation of visions that up until now existed only in your head. Even better you didn't actually have to create it yourself. 'Cos that would mean needing to sew and stuff.

This is where you need to be objective and remember what you asked for. Make sure things are well sewn and fitting correctly. If not, speak up because now is your chance to get that changed. Inspect seams, pockets and hems carefully. Be specific about whether things need to be taken in or out, up or down.

Again, be careful of your time, and firm with deadlines.

Summary of step 5: try before you buy.

Step 6: Bits and pieces

Depending on where else you are traveling in Vietnam, don't limit yourself to clothes and shoes. Hoi An has an interesting market with an excellent range of jewellery.

You can also get all the usual touristy fare (more $ than Saigon though).

There's also shops selling beautiful scarves and pashminas. Or how about silk ties (that come packaged in the cutest little boxes). Or some artwork?

Another option is to go handbag shopping at a shoe shop. Like shoes, they can duplicate any handbag you take in.

Summary of step 6: yet more shopping.

Step 7: Getting it home

Unless you're on a flying visit through 'Nam and home again, you're not really going to want to cart around a zillion kilos worth of shopping are you?

If all your stuff fits into your bags (and your baggage allowance), then more power to you, but for the mortals amongst us, consider shipping your shopping home via the Hoi An postal service. Your hotel should call them up for you, and they come to you with boxes and packing tape. You barely need to leave your room.
It's an exciting and sometimes worrying few weeks at home waiting for your items to arrive. But when they do, it's like Christmas all over again rediscovering treasures you had forgotten about.

Hmm that's all I can think of for now. Wow I am really wishing I was in Hoi An right now after all that!! Time to start writing a shopping list for Mum & Dad methinks!


Briony said...

Great advice, you've made me want to travel too!
Have a great christmas.

yublocka said...

One day...sooner rather than later hopefully hey!!